Here is an instructional hand that I played online recently, in Bovada’s “Zone Poker” game, at the micro stakes level with blinds of $0.10 – 0.25.
For the uninitiated, Zone Poker is a lightning fast game, where you can click “Fold Now” at anytime after the cards are dealt, and not only is your hand automatically folded when the action gets to you, but you are also immediately re-seated at a newly formed table with a new group of players to start another hand. This takes anonymity to a new level. In Bovada’s regular cash games, all players are anonymous – i.e., only identified by their seat number and not by any actual or screen name – but over the course of several dozen hands you can observe each player’s habits – loose, tight, bluffs a lot, defends blinds aggressively, etc. But you cannot recognize a player from the previous day or last week and recall that “PokerBum123” is a certain type of player based on the prior sessions.
With Zone Poker, EACH HAND is with a new group of players, so you don’t even have the benefit of knowing how they played the last 10 or 20 hands in the current session.
This results in very polarized play: a lot of players play in a very straightforward, “ABC Poker” manner, or they make large and frequent bluffs. Any style in between tends to get crushed.
I am at a 6-handed table, and have the dealer button, and a starting stack of $30.35 (the maximum buy-in at this table with blinds of $0.10 – 0.25 is $25.00, so I’m up a little bit. I look down at 33 and it seems like I’ve had 33 or 22 dealt a lot in the last several sessions and surely one of these times I’m going to flop a set and win a huge pot from some unsuspecting villain. (Of course, I have similar thoughts about many starting hands, but I digress.) The Hijack and Cutoff seats both limp in for $0.25 and I raise to $0.75.
Some people might not raise here, but my rationale is to build the pot a little bit just in case the set comes, so the next round of betting one-half pot or three-quarters pot sized bet will be large enough to mean something. Plus, with certain flop textures, I may be able to take down the pot with a strong continuation bet even if I miss. The Big Blind (BB) calls and so doe stye Hijack seat (HJ = 2 to the right of the button), and the Cutoff folds.
Here comes the flop: ($2.60) 9s 4c 3d. Cha-ching! Now it’s time to make some money off these chumps. Because I raised pre-flop, whereas most players would just limp in if their strategy is set mining here, my set of 3’s is well-disguised. Think about it: if you were developing a range of hands for me based on my position and raise (remember, I’m a totally anonymous player), would 33 be part of that range?
The BB checks and HJ bets $0.25, the minimum amount. That’s a strange and fishy amount, and probably means (1) he’s just a bad player who doesn’t know what he’s doing, or (2) a blocking bet hoping to preempt me from making a larger continuation bet, typically indicating a player chasing a draw (the only possible draws on this flop are straight draws with 76, 75, 65, 52, A5 or A5), or (3) a weak made hand like 9x, 4x, or 88-55, and trying to find out where he stands, or (4) some kind of disguised trap or setup for a bluff on a later street.
I’m not going for any of that, so I raise to $1.50, trying to think about the bet increments that will be needed on the turn and river to build up the largest pot possible. To my delight, BB calls. Then HJ re-raises to $2.75, the minimum re-raise amount.
Zone Poker only gives you 15 seconds to make each decision, with no option to request extra time (their regular cash games give you 30 seconds, with the option of requesting 30 extra seconds if needed). So I must process this quickly. FIrst I note how dry the flop is. 943, rainbow. No flush draws at all. Not many straight draws – see above – and many of those hands should have folded to my pre-flop raise. I’ve learned that most of the time a Villain raises or re-raises pre-flop, they have 2-pair or better. After that, they probably have top pair or an over pair. Over 85% of the time, they will have one of these possibilities.
Rather than shovel my money in as fast as possible, I decide to call and buy a few extra second to think about this. The BB also calls.
Hands that I can bet include: 2-pair? That requires starting cards of 94, 93 or 43. Nope, not in any decent player’s range, not even at this low level. Over pair? Nope. The flop is 9-high, so over pairs include TT, JJ, QQ, KK and AA. I think ALL of those would have raised pre-flop from the HJ seat, either right away (when he limped) or as a re-raise after I raised on the button, having set a trap by limping with a very strong hand. Top pair? Maybe but not likely. A9 or K9 should be wary of my enthusiasm for the hand. I raised pre-flop, indicating strength, and raised on the flop, further suggesting that I might be the one with an over pair. Certainly AA-TT is in my range here. A thinking player would slow down after I raised to $1.50.
Besides, the BB called both my re-raise and HJ’s re-re-raise from out of position. Is he the real villain in this hand, sitting there with a monster?
After eliminating 2-pair and over pair hands, and reducing the likelihood of HJ having top pair, now I have to worry about sets. Since I have a set of 33’s, either or both villains here could have 44 or 99 (the latter being more likely for BB as a calling hand after my pre-flop raise, and less likely HJ as a limp/calling hand from the outset). If this is the case, I’m toast!
Turn card: ($10.85) Jh. Now no flush is possible, and nothing really seems to have changed.
BB checks again, and HJ bets $1.50. Being wary, I just call, and BB now raises all-in. HJ quickly calls, and both villains have more chips in their stacks than I do.
Holy Bankruptcy, Batman!
I’m not positive which one of them has a bigger set than mine, but surely one (or both) of them does. I fold. One of them might be an idiot, and I’ll find out which one in a few seconds, but not both of them. (Not that i can use the information for any advantage in Zone Poker, however.)
BB shows J9 for top 2-pair. HJ shows 99 for top set on the flop and wins the final pot of approx. $70 – which is freaking huge at these stakes.
I’m thrilled to have ‘only’ lost five bucks on this hand and $25 + change remaining in my stack.
Ok Bovada, how about giving me 2 more cards and let’s try again…